Savannah fox, South American mammal

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The savannah fox is a South American canid distinguished by its gray and red fur. An omnivorous species, it feasts on fruits as well as birds and insects. But the one we nicknamed the crab-eating fox also feasts on crabs. Portrait of a little-known mammal because it is solitary and nocturnal.

Who is the savannah fox?

The savannah fox (Cerdocyon thous) is a carnivorous mammal belonging to the Canidae family. It is also called crab-eating fox because depending on its habitat, it consumes land crabs. The only member of the Cerdocyon genus, it lives in South America (Argentina, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Panama, Colombia). The savannah fox measures approximately 64 cm in length with a tail of 30 cm and weighs between 5 and 8 kg. Its maximum longevity is 11 and ½ years in captivity.

How to recognize the savannah fox?

In its general morphology, the South American canid resembles most of the foxes we know in Europe but the color of its coat differs. The animal has a gray-brown color on the back, and red on the head, ears and legs. Its throat and chest are white. The tips of the legs and tail are black. The shades of its fur vary depending on the habitat. For example, the fox is dark to almost black in northern Venezuela and central Brazil; silvery gray in the Venezuelan plains and pale reddish gray-yellow in the Ceara region, Brazil. Generally speaking, we also note that forest individuals are significantly grayer than those living in open spaces (darker). The savannah fox does not exhibit sexual dimorphism.

Where does the savannah fox live?

The range of the savannah fox includes coastal and mountainous areas of Panama and Venezuela and numerous forests: in the Andes, eastern Bolivia and Argentina; on the Atlantic coast of Brazil and on the Pacific coast of Colombia. This very versatile animal occupies different typologies of forests (Amazonian, dry, humid, from sea level to 3000 m altitude). It is found both in open palm savannahs and in closed deciduous forests, but also in marshes, scrub, woods and other bushy terrain. In the arid regions of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, the mammal remains on forest edges. It adapts to deforestation as well as agricultural and horticultural expansion (sugar cane, eucalyptus, melon, pineapple), and to regenerating environments.

What does the savannah fox eat?

The canine composes its menu with small mammals, fruits, amphibians, insects, crustaceans, birds and carrion. Its omnivorous diet varies depending on resource availability and season. Observing its droppings is very revealing of its opportunistic behavior. For example, in one Venezuelan site, land crabs represent the bulk of its diet during the rainy season; in the wetlands of Ibera (Argentina), they are aquatic birds; in the eastern Colombian Andes, above 2600m altitude, vertebrates constitute the most consumed food; finally, in the wooded savannahs of the Marajo lowlands (Brazil), cultivated and wild fruits as well as insects provide almost all of its meals. By studying the diet of the savannah fox, other particularities were noted:

some specimens ingest small stones from gravel pits, probably as mineral sources (the Marajó region, Brazil); Individuals hide their food and mark it with their urine; The presence of germinating seeds in its droppings indicates that the species contributes to the regeneration of the forest ecosystem. What is his hunting technique?

A nocturnal species, the savannah fox begins to become active at dusk on a home range measuring less than 1 km². The rest of the time, it rests on the ground in dense undergrowth or in the burrows of other animals (like that of the armadillo). The mammal often moves alone or in pairs, sometimes accompanied by 2 to 3 juveniles (its young). Pack hunting is rare but the crab-eating fox can tolerate the presence of conspecifics in a site where food is abundant and easily accessible (turtle eggs, fruits, termites, large carrion, etc.). We thus notice that the canine is readily more territorial in the dry season (less food) than in the rainy season.

How does the savannah fox reproduce?

The breeding period varies depending on the distribution of the savannah fox. For example, litters have been observed between June and December in Brazil; between December and February in the Venezuelan plains and throughout the year elsewhere in Venezuela. In the wild, this monogamous species reproduces only once a year and up to twice in captivity, at intervals of 7 to 8 months. Following a gestation of approximately 56 days, between 3 and 6 young are born blind and deaf. Weighing between 120 and 160g, they are immediately breastfed by their mother and open their eyes after 14 days.

How are savannah fox cubs raised?

It is only between the 16th and 20th day that the parents bring solid food within reach (while the teeth grow). The diet then becomes mixed because breastfeeding lasts approximately 90 days. After 1 month, the pups leave the den intermittently and more frequently from the 45th day, when they display the color of the adult coat. Weaning occurs at the age of 5 months and sexual maturity is reached shortly before their first birthday. The young disperse at the age of 18 to 24 months. However, even when dispersed, they return to their parents during breeding periods, suggesting in this species close social bonds between siblings.

Is the savannah fox an endangered species?

As adults, the canine has few predators, but the fox cubs are coveted by jaguars, pumas, wolves and certain birds of prey. The savannah fox is not hunted or poached because its short, rough fur has little commercial value. When it attacks poultry and lambs, the mammal can be the subject of illegal slaughter by angry breeders. In certain regions, the crab-eating fox is also a victim of car traffic. The main known threat to this species comes from a pathogenic infection transmitted by unvaccinated domestic dogs (in Brazil, the two canines come together while scavenging for rubbish in landfills). The savannah fox is listed in Appendix II of the Washington Convention (CITES) and in the “least concern” category on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species is not considered endangered and does not benefit from protection measures in the countries where it lives.

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